The first thing you need to know about Amanda Chong is that she’s really passionate about social advocacy.
“There are many people who are dwelling in hopelessness without access to opportunities, and I hope to do all I can to walk alongside them towards a more inclusive Singapore,” she says.
And she takes actionable steps. For one, the lawyer trained in Cambridge and Harvard not only specialises in maritime law and aviation law, but also human rights. In 2016, she served on the United Nations Expert Group on the International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons.
Also, aside from being the co-founder of ReadAble, a non-profit organisation that equips underprivileged children with literacy skills, the 31-year-old regularly speaks on public policy and social justice issues in schools and national forums. Last year, she was appointed to the Panel of Advisors to the Youth Court by the President of Singapore.
In addition, she is the co-founder of poetry.sg and is recognised as one of the country’s leading writers: her poetry is studied as part of the Cambridge International GCSE syllabus and her debut poetry collection, Professions, was shortlisted for the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize.
Awareness from young
Amanda feels deeply about using her power to help others because she understands that her access to opportunities is, to a large degree, the result of her privilege.
“My father came from very humble beginnings and I grew up listening to his stories about his childhood. He lived in a one-room flat and slept under a table with five siblings. He studied by the light of the common corridor as the electricity in his home was often cut off because they could not pay the bills,” she explains. She adds that he eventually became the first person in his family to go to university, and become a lawyer after graduating.
“Through listening to his stories, I understood the great privilege I had to be born into a life without unmet material needs, and where I had the freedom to pursue education and my passions. My parents always impressed upon me that we should use the gifts and talents we have been blessed with to serve the community and love our neighbours.”
She is also deeply motivated by the urgency of needs around her and the injustices in society. In fact, her interest in law is entwined with her passion to serve the public interest.
“I consider law the practical language in which ideals like justice are manifested in society,” she says.
Levelling the playing field
In being cognizant of how inequality impacts opportunities (and, more importantly, passionate about making a difference) Amanda established ReadAble with her co-founders in a bid to level the educational playing field. They started out by teaching one kid in a one-room flat, but at present the organisation teaches over a hundred children and migrant mums weekly.
“It began when we realised there were many bright children from low income backgrounds who were going to Primary 1 unprepared because they did not have access to the same resources,” she says.
As co-founder, she handles partnerships and other administrative issues and also teaches their weekly class for teenagers. Some of the stories penned by her students can be found at @humansofkukoh on Instagram – the handle is a tribute to Jalan Kukoh, as the students want people to recognise their neighbourhood as a place with great community spirit, and not stereotyped as a “poor” area with a high crime rates and social problems.
“I believe social inequality is the issue that Singapore must reckon with seriously in our generation. Who we are as a country and the values we stand for are revealed in the way we treat the most vulnerable amongst us.”
Writing and empathy
Amanda’s love for writing stems from its ability to take her to a place of vulnerability.
“Writing is my way of grappling with unanswered questions. I believe that good writing lifts us out of our insular selves and builds empathy with others. I am interested in exploring the themes of gender and power in my writing,” she lets on. As a confessional poet, she writes “honestly” about her experiences, which includes losing a dear friend to suicide and grappling with her grandmother’s dementia.
She also likes that poetry has given her the gift of relatability – that readers have told her that her work has given them the language to process their own grief or pain.
At the time of writing, Amanda is penning a children’s play, The Feelings Farm, that will be directed by award- winning theatre director Edith Podesta and shown as part of Esplanade’s March On Festival for Children from March 11 to 14. The play aims to help children name and understand their emotions through poetry, music, movement and multimedia.
“I want to help kids name their feelings and understand how they can regulate them, as well as develop empathy for others who are going through difficult feelings. These are crucial life skills that help us to build stronger relationships with those around us and foster a greater sense of kindness toward ourselves and
It can be hard to imagine how Amanda balances everything on her plate. But she points out that she’s able to find success because she thrives on both passion and challenges.
“I feel very blessed that I get to lead a life where I have opportunities to pursue the things I find great purpose in. I also thrive on a good challenge and my varied pursuits keep my left brain and right brain equally engaged,” she says.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is also currently working on another project – a second collection of poetry titled So Much Is Carried In The Body that explores generational traumas.
“I began thinking about this concept when I discovered a little known historical fact: 80 per cent of the girls and women brought into Singapore in the early 1880s were trafficked into prostitution. This means that the majority of women in our society had sexual violence in the histories of our bodies. It led me to the question, ‘How do we carry this weight?’”
There’s a lot that Amanda has to offer the community but one thing is for sure: she’s just getting started.